The Shop & Acoustic Café: New cafe in Lee is retro, campy, fun


LEE -- Some of you have already noticed the colorful change. When you drive south through downtown Lee, cross over the Housatonic River and then the train tracks, and pass Joe's Diner to the left and Convenience Plus on the right, you find yourself at the top of Main Street.

This intersection has looked just about the same since my first trip to Joe's in the late ‘80s. The Goodwill was a welcome addition to the block last year, but its sweaters and $0.50 treasures didn't quite electrify the landscape like The Shop & Acoustic Café has in the last week. I can no longer round that crowded bend in Lee without The Shop's storefront catching my eye.

The vibrant two-walled window front stands to the left of Henry's Electric on the east side of Main Street, its entryway resting under the unchanged "1914" engraved in the building's brick and stone façade. Psychedelic splashes of white paint on a blood red backdrop frame half a dozen sleek electric guitars hung in the display window, as if Wayne and Garth or Bill and Ted finally got their acts together and turned a love of rock music into an imaginative business.

I poked into the brightly lit entrance Friday at 7:30 p.m., just as the evening's entertainment was winding down. The space is larger than seems reasonable from street view, and furnished with luxurious leather sofas and lots of gorgeous guitars. The store's checkout counter doubles as a long wooden bar, and a nearby shelf also serves as surface for drinking coffee or using a laptop. They have free wi-fi.

"It's the best window in Lee," said owner Michael Sayers, who is still putting some final touches on an impressive interior that he built largely from recycled materials. "We've had lots of people of all ages coming down here to have coffee. It's like a bar without alcohol."

Tall chairs line the bars for the moment, but drum thrones and Pork Pie guitar stools will soon provide unique bar seating for anyone who'd like to come in Tuesday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. The full-sized stage that protrudes into the large space is softened by crimson velvet curtains that drape behind the performer, lending some Sergeant Pepper glamour to a window that formerly displayed appliances.

Adults and children alike came out to see the music that night, a lineup of three talented friends of Sayers'. Tomorrow night will feature singers and guitar players John McCauly and Sean Adamson.

"Everyone who's come in here has said this is the coolest place in Lee," said Sayers, who has made the conscious decision to build a welcoming, luxurious and stimulating social and artistic space free of the limitations that come with serving alcohol.

"It gives people who don't drink a place to go out and have a good time and listen to music. It's great for musicians with children. We get a lot of high school students coming in here. I want all local musicians to come post their music up here for sale, and I don't want a penny of it," he said. "And I'm putting a live stock ticker up. I want to appeal to everybody."

I can see The Shop's eclectic services drawing equally eclectic crowds. They sell and service Schecter guitars, Mesa Boogie amplifiers, Neumann microphones and other high-end equipment in addition to offering private lessons and repairs.

Sayers is organizing a weekly open mic night (or afternoon), and encourages local musicians to contact him about performing and selling their music at The Shop.

He played me an audio recording of one of the evening's earlier performers to demonstrate The Shop's recording capabilities. It sounded crisp and rich, and he offers to make a recording for anyone who plays on his stage.

Try to catch the place after dark, or at least after the sun has given up on winning the day, so that Sayers can show you the colorful disco lighting he has at the ready. And as for fitting in with the neighborhood, he feels great about this location.

"I don't sell food, so I'm not competing with the neighbors," said Sayers. "I go to Joe's for breakfast and The Locker Room for lunch."

And I feel great about him being there. Throughout the 1990s, when the people on MTV seemed so distant, a music store as retro, luxe, campy and downright fun as The Shop -- if it had existed on Main street in Lee -- would have driven my young imagination wild.

Maybe I'd actually have stuck with those guitar lessons.


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